Christian financial planning is only Christian if it glorifies God
In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths – Proverbs 3:6
If you’re like me, you want to live for the Kingdom in everything you do. Understanding the differences between secular financial planning and Christian Financial Planning can help in the fight.
So, what’s the difference? Is there really such a thing as Christian financial planning? How is it different from the secular version? Is the process different? I think it’s appropriate to give this some thought because it’s easy to get this wrong.
Some might say the difference is how we invest. We shouldn’t invest in companies that promote alcohol, gambling, pornography, and other sinful activity. While I too think we should be careful about what we support through our investment decisions, investment strategy isn’t the same as financial planning.
Some might say the main difference for a Christian is in our giving. We should give to our churches and fund Christian efforts. Giving is important too. But where we give, is not financial planning.
It’s common to think that the big thing for Christians is to stay out of debt. The borrower is a slave to the lender (Proverbs 22:7), right? While this too is good, many secular financial planners will recommend living with low/no consumer debt.
Financial planning forces us to check our priorities
Financial planning is looking at the important financial issues of life – our priorities – and how to best handle them in a connected, all-things-considered way. How should we think about and manage daily living expenses, retirement, college costs, estate planning, taxes, life insurance, long-term care possibilities, etc., given our values and resources? So, instead of looking at all these things in isolation, let’s put together a “business plan” for our finances.
Using projections in the planning process can help us look into the future. Doing this gives us an idea as to how things might work out – God willing – in the end. The problem is that these projections contain many, many assumptions. And these assumptions (priorities, inflation, income, savings, living expenses, investment returns, costs estimations, etc.) constantly change and are seldom accurate. So, it’s essential to review and adjust with regularity. The thought is, if we adjust regularly, we have a good chance of actually reaching our goals.
But here’s the key – A good financial plan will also force us to think about and rethink our priorities. Usually, there’s not enough money for everything, so we must evaluate our options and make smart choices. This is one of the reasons it’s important to work in the context of a plan rather than just tackling issues as they come.
The reality of any financial design is that it reflects the values and priorities of the individual. We all make financial decisions that echo our what we believe.
Christian financial planning is unique and beautiful when Christ-exalting priorities and Kingdom values flow through our lives and the plans we make. As the gospel grips us and we respond to God’s call to steward our finances, the way we think about money should change. As we develop a desire to reflect Jesus’ worth in every decision, our financial plan will look very different from the secular version. In that there are dangers and pitfalls, I’ll share three cautions:
Working with a Christian planner doesn’t mean we’ll have a Christian plan.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t work with a Christian financial planner. But many Christian financial planners, in the end, do financial planning just like everyone else. Often the planner will gather information to construct a picture of your current situation and then make standard assumptions to create a path for the future. The same path that everyone else has.
You must control the assumptions.
It’s natural to assume that the planner/advisor has the answers, knows what he/she is doing, and will put sound thinking and expertise and experience into everything. But thinking this way can lead to disaster. The person you work with cannot fully understand your convictions, and you must make sure your priorities are accurately represented in the planning. Too many people turn over critical aspects of the planning process to the advisor assuming everything will work out the way it should. Critical pieces of the planning process should include your unique desires:
Giving – what is your giving strategy and how will it change over time (here’s an article on giving).
Retirement – what exactly are your plans here? Age, our standard of living, longevity assumptions, when/how to draw Social Security, housing, etc. are all vital in order to balance your priorities and save appropriately.
Estate planning – what happens when you die? Do you have a surviving spouse that will need income? Do you want to leave money to your church or missions organization? Do you have special-needs children or grandchildren that will need help? Can your own children handle money or should assets be managed for them?
Focus on the foundation.
THE GOSPEL – In the good news of the gospel, we find God’s answer to our corruption and all the tragedy that flows from that. Through faith in the person and cross-work of Jesus, our hearts are changed, and we grasp a different treasure – God himself. The gospel changes our future and our understanding of the reason we’re here. It’s about living with Jesus and living for Jesus. Now we’re about showing his value in everything we do.
Since the gospel, and all that Jesus is for us, is now the foundation of our lives, our financial plan will reflect the values and mission of Jesus in every component. This means that our lifestyle, retirement goals, giving, savings, thinking about college, estate planning, etc. will all reflect Kingdom ideals. The gospel will reorient our priorities for the sake of Jesus.
PRAYER – Since earthly values are deeply embedded in our culture, it’s easy to move toward false treasure in the way we think about money. The temptation to compromise is enormous. So, we must pray if we are to win the battle. Christians pray about what’s important to them, and God answers prayer. The reason we don’t pray is that the issue at hand is not important to us. If living for Christ in our finances is vital, we’ll pray. And God will work:
Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. – John 14:13
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. – John 15:7
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. – James 1:5
FAITH – Living out the gospel will stretch us because it means depending on God when we’re inclined to depend on our money. But we have an unshakable foundation in God and God’s promises. Jobs can vanish, good health can leave, markets can disappoint, but God will not. Living lives of faith, in our financial planning, means that money does not carry the day, God’s purposes and promises do. We trust in God and not in money
Example #1 – If you’re in a situation where you’re anxious about your financial future, be careful. It’s easy to assume the answer is a job change or a second job or giving less – and that may be appropriate, but we must not neglect God’s vision for us. Be sure to ask questions like: How is God using me in my current job? Would a second job take me away from my ministry to family or church or neighbors or coworkers? Is my financial concern legitimate or does greed play a role?
…“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. – Luke 12:22-23
…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. – Philippians 4:6
…casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. – 1 Peter 5:7
Example #2 – Let’s say that you’d like to increase you’re giving to the church, or missions, or evangelism, or other places. It’s easy to focus on the amount you’ll be giving away rather than on the glory of Jesus or your purpose here. We should focus on the truth of the gospel (you have been saved in order to be zealous for good works – Ephesians 2:10; Titus 2:14), and trust that God will continue to satisfy:
Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. – Psalm 37:4
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. – Matthew 6:33
…but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” – John 4:14
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” – Hebrews 13:5
Example #3 – Let’s say that college decisions are approaching for you and/or your child. And we all know how much college can cost. The college dream can easily capture our thinking and cause us to abandon clear thinking. When the future of a child, or the pride of a parent are connected to a decision, the biblical perspective can be left at the door and following God can be difficult. Faith will put God’s principals first while trusting in his faithfulness:
You are my friends if you do what I command you. – John 15:14
…Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it! – Luke 11:28
Christian financial planning is not simply consulting with an advisor who is a Christian. And it’s not simply investing in the right mutual fund, or giving to the church, or staying out of debt (all of these can be good), it’s connecting the work of the gospel in us to every aspect of our financial lives. It’s thinking through our planning for the glory of Jesus in everything.
Chris Cagle has an article, 5 Lies Christians Tell About Money, that may be helpful.